HELLO my name is Samson

You can call him “Little Sam” as he makes his long-awaited introduction to the world


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How does one feel after 18 months of pattern making, machining and assembly of an engine? What is one's reaction when the idea becomes reality and far surpasses the boldest of expectations? What is accomplished when the model performs exactly as the full size engine, even duplicating the idiosyncrasies? The only way these questions can be answered is to go through the process yourself. Only then can you fully appreciate the scope of what is involved. I dare say that John M. Kroyer had a similar appreciation for his first prototype.

Building these small scales reveals a wonderful technology that is hidden from modern perception. Machine design, which looks deceptively simple when built on the bench, reveals the gracefulness of much beauty and a complexity not seen with the naked eye. Study reveals the greatest appreciation for beauty in design combined solidly with the best engineering practice of the day. The fact that nothing frivolous is ever found in good design is not an accident. These great men of long ago who originated these engines combined the gracefulness and majesty of art in the form of gray iron castings and lathe-turned parts.

These small-scale engines built today are a modern-day legacy to those men of long ago who lifted the yoke from our backs with the wonderful power of explosive vapor turning a flywheel.

"You don't need to be a mechanical genius or shop wizard or possess a million dollar machine shop to build your favorite engine in miniature."

Little Sam started as a desire to capture the essence of the early Samson engines in a size that lends itself to display in the home. I built Little Sam two ways in my mind before I even lifted a pencil. The first version involved the casting process, which at the time I was unfamiliar with. The fabrication process is possible, although very tedious in the attachment of many small parts to assemble and no way to replicate it. However, the casting process provides an easy solution to all of the characteristic forms used in Samson gas engine construction. Plus, if the model was successful, I could easily create another one as a result of already having the patterns made. This was a deciding factor, as well as my appreciation for the look of true castings in construction.

One of my basic goals was to build it as it could have been when presented to the patent office. I also built it in such as way that it cannot be differentiated from one built a century ago. The final goal was to create an accurate representation of an engine instantly recognizable as a Samson engine with all the unique features identifying as such.

After these basic goals were determined, there remained the question of scale. Most models available today are 1/4-scale. However, with some amount of detail in Little Sam, I felt a 1/3-scale would lend itself to more precise detailing in the patterns. It was easier to see what I was doing in this scale as well. A 1/3-scale engine is a substantial size and very impressive with considerable power. These considerations all helped to decide the scale.

I began serious planning for Little Sam after seeing the marvelous Alamo scale built by Eric Brekke on the front cover of Gas Engine Magazine in December 2003. This lovely engine is also 1/3-scale and absolutely breathtaking in every detail. With it as an inspiration, I began Little Sam.

Richard Backus has gracefully allowed me in various issues of GEM to share Little Sam's progress. This is the final update as the engine is alive and well, performing exactly as its big Papa.

These updates have never been how-to articles, but rather I have tried to pass along the feeling of achievement and perhaps an insight or two. I am not a machinist, or a carpenter. I did what I could with what I have, which isn't much. So Little Sam is proof that a good engine can be built with a minimum of machine tools.

How does one go about building an accurate model of his favorite engine? Two things are very important. You must have a deep desire to build it to the exclusion of everything else and you must possess the most intimate knowledge of the engine you are modeling. Deep desire plus accurate knowledge equals success. You don't need to be a mechanical genius or shop wizard or possess a million dollar machine shop to build your favorite engine in miniature.

I have met some amazing people who build the most marvelous scales imaginable. Roland Morrison helped me tremendously with practical advice and the accumulation of difficult to find material. Carmin Adams has greatly encouraged me with hints in igniter and carburetor construction. Many have replied with tips and solutions and provided encouragement. I have met many fine people through this fine magazine.

Little Sam is a 1/3-scale model based on the Samson 5 HP Model N, built from 1898-1907.

The Little Samson represents the 5 HP Model N engines built from 1898 to 1907 in Stockton, Calif. It has a fully jacketed cylinder as well as water-cooled head. It possesses a working distillate/gasoline carburetor with float. The igniter uses tungsten for point material. The crankshaft and governor shaft run in properly babbitted bearing, as does the original.

I intended to run Little Sam on propane because it runs so sweet and quiet on this fuel. However, I built the distillate fuel system as a working system, this also being one of my original goals. On gasoline the engine runs about 200 RPM. On propane I can get it to run about 80 RPM (so far). I have found it necessary to use copper gaskets on the igniter and valve box cover because of the heat. Eventually the Little Samson will be belted up to a Samson 3-inch centrifugal pump in bronze, which is yet to be scaled.

Four complete casting sets were produced from the initial 22 patterns. The other three are in capable hands able to turn these rough castings into working engines using rough drawings and notes. I have no immediate plans to provide these castings in a commercial sense, this is not the reason nor purpose for which they are intended. I have been waiting five months for valve box and governor body castings to complete the other three sets. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find foundries interested in small runs and labor intensive castings.

Yes, there are men born with a desire and imagination to create in miniature things that are precious to the heart. Translating these thoughts into a scale engine is a noble thing, capturing the essence of the inventor and empowering the viewer to glimpse the past in a modern day moment. The magic of scale engines defines the past and brings to life those vision-filled men who dreamed of power in flywheels.

In much the same sense, we pay tribute by our efforts in replicating these machines. Their inventors would be pleased to see our efforts in creating miniatures of their accomplishments, which helped free men from back-breaking toil, thus giving them a chance to dream and perhaps leave to their children a better and easier world.

Think about it. Samsons must be good engines because they're still being built today! Little Sam is just as much a Samson engine as any built by John M. Kroyer. This statement reveals the magic of scales and their great significance to those who cherish the past.

Lester Bowman, 175 N. Santa Ana Ave., Modesto, CA 95354; samsonironwks2003@yahoo.com